The Art of Activism

November 16, 2018

By Rob Humphreys ’16MBA

Grace Loescher creates artwork with spray paint on a wall in Sacramento.
Photo by Rach Wilde.

Grace Loescher ’14 is combining her arts and theater background with a passion for social justice to impact the lives of young people in Sacramento.

Midway through her senior year, Grace Loescher ’14 was grappling with a question every studio art major confronts before graduation: What would she create for her culminating art piece?

A fan of collaborative, participatory art, Loescher found inspiration volunteering with the Zebra Coalition, a local network of organizations that provide services to LGBTQ+ and all young people, including those facing homelessness, bullying, addiction, abuse, and other challenges.

“I asked them if I could start an arts expression group to work through things like identity issues and religion,” she says. “We were all learning and growing so much from each other. I became way more interested in the relationships than the physical creation of the art—and at that point I decided I wanted to do social, community-based work.”

Today, Loescher is the program director at Waking the Village, a Sacramento nonprofit dedicated to ending youth homelessness. In that capacity, she founded The Creation District, a “safe haven for creation, discovery, activism, daring, and dream-making for Sacramento’s youth and young adults.”

Two of her favorite projects are Street ARTreach, a pop-up studio art program housed in a remodeled moving van, and Creation District Records, which helps young people record and promote their music online.

Grace Loescher playing a guitar on a rooftop.Grace Loescher playing a guitar on a rooftop.
Photo by Rach Wilde.

On the side, Loescher teaches art and theater to high school students from underserved communities through a program called College Track. And at night you might find her hosting Speak Out Sacramento open-mic sessions, putting on highly attended “Backyard Broadway” plays like Hamilton and Rent, mastering new musical instruments, or sleeping outside City Hall to protest homeless ordinances.

For her extraordinary professional accomplishments, Rollins recently presented Loescher with its 2018 Young Alumni Achievement Award.

The child of reporters who worked at the Orlando Sentinel before moving into political speechwriting (mom) and defense consulting (dad), Loescher became enamored by writing and poetry while growing up in Arlington, Virginia.

Taking after her luthier father, Michael Loescher ’72, Grace always loved putting things together, once turning her backyard into a miniature golf course. Her parents, she says, were “creative, hardworking people who followed their dreams ... the coolest people in the world.” Ever since Loescher was little, she dreamed of attending Rollins, the same school where her dad earned a degree in biochemistry.

As a Tar, Loescher rowed crew for a year, wrote for The Sandspur, led independent Bible studies, lived in Pinehurst Cottage, and, paying tribute to Harry Potter, played quidditch. A theater minor, she wrote and acted in an improvised play called Lost Comedies of William Shakespeare.

Grace Loescher pictured at Zebra Coalition.Grace Loescher pictured at Zebra Coalition.
Photo by Rach Wilde.

Oh, and that elusive culminating art piece? The one Loescher was fretting over as a senior? True to her collaborative, participatory style, she wound up creating a giant confessional booth where people could “come in and write their confessions or sins.”

“Rollins gave me the opportunity to try a little bit of everything, and that’s helped me in my current work,” she says. “I’m really hungry for nuggets of knowledge. Even if I learn just one sentence in French or one riff on the drums, that’s really valuable to me.”

Skills honed in the theater have proven especially relevant at The Creation District.

“I start every single lesson with an improv exercise,” says Loescher. “I have a whole workshop about how improv relates to life—about listening and having each other’s backs. Other times, we might learn about the American Revolution through theater or finances by producing a show.”

Looking back on her childhood, as well as her time at Rollins, Loescher knows she was fortunate to be able to play a piano, pick up a paintbrush, or act in a play. Now, her mission in life is to bring that same joy to others, particularly those who are hurting or economically disadvantaged.

“I truly believe everyone is an artist,” she says, “and I feel driven by this motivation to arm people with paintbrushes and pens so they can go and create something amazing. Giving someone the tools to create something out of all the destruction in the world is the best way we can raise the next generation of activists and young people.”

Students wearing caps and gowns walk to a commencement ceremony on Rollins College’s campus.

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